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Spirituality and Religiosity

Updated: Dec 22, 2021

Spirituality is innate in human beings. It is often buried, covered over with ego, identity, or lost in a disturbed mind. Ignorance, lack of awareness, not awake to it are other ways to express not recognizing your innate spirituality. Still, it is in there. Two of the functions of spiritual practice are to uncover it and to experience it fully.

What are we to experience? Ultimate reality, the "real" truth, the ultimate "one-ness" of creation that presents itself to us, or that we artificially divide into infinite variety and diversity. The artificial "I" we label ourselves is simultaneously in it and of it.

What is it? That's the ultimate question. A clear, complete answer is an ages-old quest and an eternal impossibility. In just two paragraphs, you can see how quickly language either gets sticky or impossibly loose depending on your point of view. Either way, it's inadequate to the task. That brings us to religiosity.

In a religious studies definition, religion is a system of symbols to intellectually understand and articulate to greater or lesser extent the ultimately ineffable--a reality that cannot materially be fully expressed, only experienced. The system's structure may include tangible symbols, a cross, a star, a Buddha statue, an artistic rendering from heaven to hell.

The crossed keys of Simon Peter, silver and gold, are worn by the Catholic Pope. They symbolize "binding and loosing," the indisputable authority to forbid or permit: God's attorney general, so to speak. These notions appear in both the old and new testaments. The pope also wears a triple crown in ceremonies. At once, it crowns him "father of kings," "governor of the world," and "Vicar of Christ" and likely symbolizes the Trinity, as well.

Rite and ritual are parts of the system. Dietary guidelines are part of some. Historically, even alteration of one's physicality has been practiced, distinguishing one system's adherent from a member of another--obvious example, the rite of circumcision. Tattoos, ritual mutilation, there are myriad other examples in human history.

And, of course, a unique linguistic expression denotes one symbolic system from another. Old ones are well developed intricate articulations. A specialized vocabulary to better intellectually understand and express the ultimately ineffable is a significant utility of religiosity.

Why discuss all of this? Several cautions come to mind, and they require understanding and acceptance:

Understand and accept the difference between spirituality and religiosity. The terms are not the same or even similar. Spirituality is to experience--think the verb "to be" with no past or future element within it. To be is the ultimate existential act. Religiosity is a collection of symbolic tools to intellectually understand and describe experiencing--think "what was" and "what will be." The nanosecond one puts a past or future to spiritual experience, it ceases "to be." Even the notion of "to be, or not to be" incorrectly reduces ultimately limitless unity. Do not confuse one for the other.

Understand and accept that different religions have developed unique symbolic systems to understand and describe the same indescribable thing (or experience). One may see their symbolic systems as delineating many paths to the same destination. Therefore, don't get mired in the ping-pong back and forth between them. Are the verbs "to meditate" and "to contemplate" synonyms? Yes and no; no and yes. Is it proper to meditate, eyes open or eyes closed? One system says yes, one says no. Must one sit in a particular position with hands folded in a specific way? The answers are the same. While I've embraced a Buddhist system, my system and I recognize its artificiality yet understand its shared common purpose with other systems. Buddhism provides me a sound intellectual and linguistic framework, but its primary method is not my only method. Rather than think the words, feel them. Seek commonality, not distinction, unity, not division.

Understand and accept spirituality is A-religious. We repeat this principle over and over. Religiosity, or lack of it, is irrelevant to spiritual practice. It can help intellectual understanding and discussion. It can also hinder one's way, particularly at the newly launched effort. Another of our principles of meditative or contemplative practice; "don't think, Do! Act! Be!

Spirituality is innate in human beings. How do I "know" it? Intellectually, I've learned it through study. Many far more learned than I, over long human history, have said it, wrote it. Before I knew it intellectually, I knew it innately. Sometime in my early to mid-teens, middle school, I think, I began naturally to read religious stuff.

Of, course I did not yet know the difference between spirituality and religiosity. I sampled some of the Christian Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, Hare Krishna and Soka Gakkai pamphlets, and more. Indeed, almost all of it was impenetrable to me. I laid off and moved on to other interests and pursuits. Later, I came to recognize the pure motivation for that initial short quest. Spirituality sparked in me. Why? I don't know. Looking back, it might have been stress at departing an unhappy home at fourteen years of age and taking responsibility for myself while legally still a child. Life stress commonly ignites both spirituality and a quest for religiosity.

That spark ignited itself again ten or so years later. This time, its reappearance was entirely not-intellectual but in response to quite an unpleasant experience. A life crisis, I've written on it before, triggered excruciatingly painful emotional pressure points. I simply could not focus on anything intellectually for very long.

Borrowing from a past post, "using very brief instructions from a slim paperback on hatha yoga. Stare unblinking at the flame of the candle for as long as one can manage. Close one's eyes and retain the flame's image between the eyebrows for as long as one can manage. Rinse and repeat, ad infinitum." That simple "doing" propelled me quite a ways down the path. Religiosity came a long time after.

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